SARGEANT — For nearly 40 years, when Kathy Blanchard looked out her kitchen window of her home she would see a beautiful view. But now, she shares land with what she sees as a new and noisy neighbor: Pleasant Valley Wind Farm project.
Blanchard lives with her husband, Dan, just outside Sargeant Township in Mower County. Years ago, the two bought the 10-acre property for its scenic landscape. However, they say that the wind turbines and ongoing construction on the wind farm project has disrupted their lives.
There are approximately 10 wind turbines near the Blanchards' property. In addition to the noise of the turbines, the Blanchards believe they disrupt their television signals.
"I'm all for wind energy," she said, "but we had to make some changes. Plus, there's no compensation to us. Not many people are happy, especially residents underneath these windmills ... much of the farmland is owned by people who don't live here anymore."
To add to her dissatisfaction with the wind turbines, the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm project, led by Renewable Energy Systems America, added a substation near her home. Original environmental assessments indicated that the Blanchard property would be 1,200 feet away from the substation, she said, but two weeks after that initial assessment was submitted, something changed.
"(RESA) came and changed the location of the substation to 950 feet away," she said. "They were to build on a parcel of 2.5 acres, but they have junction boxes (and) vegetative barriers all around the substation, and we believe that footprint is 5 acres. Now, I got a substation next to me."
An environmental study and a conditional-use permit issued for 2.5 acres that was approved in 2013 stated that one of the mandated requirements for the project would be the building of a vegetative barrier and junction box surrounding the substation to help mitigate noise and other disruptions for nearby residences.
To meet state noise standards, the substation should be more than 1,700 feet away. Trees were planted to block the view of the substation as well as soften the noise. However, Blanchard was not satisfied.
"I'm 63 years old," she said. "That's going to take a heck of a lot of time to block that view, and I might not even be here by then."
A company spokesperson acknowledged in an email statement that the information regarding the conditional-use permit is correct, but that "the project is in compliance with what was permitted."
However, Blanchard said the substation's fence that faces west is about 950 feet from her residence and not the 1,200 feet that was previously reported in the environmental assessment. During Tuesday's Mower County board meeting, Blanchard requested that the county look over the interpretation of the conditional-use permit.
If RESA is found in violation, then it's possible that it would pull back into the allotted space once the project is completed. However, it's uncertain if that takes into account the vegetative barriers and junction boxes that might be outside of the 2.5-acre parcel.
Mower County Environmental Services Director Angie Knish, who would be investigating Blanchard's request, was unavailable for comment.
Mower County does not receive power generated from the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm. The county benefits from wind tax income, and residents who have turbines on their land receive annual income from wind power companies, according to an email from Mower County Commissioner Polly Glynn.
"The wind energy is sold by Xcel, but the turbines do not power anything in Mower County," she stated.
Potential television signal loss
While watching a small television in her kitchen, Blanchard has noticed some audio is lost — a couple of words here and there are dropped, she said.
"There is something going on there, but don't know for sure if that's windmill related," she said. "I just noticed it within the last month."
Research indicates that the turbines could be affecting television signals. Six full-power digital stations may have their reception disrupted within and around the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm project, mostly in locations on the opposite side of the area, relative to the station antennas, according to research.
A permit compliance filed in May 2014 stated that about 10 percent of receiver locations within 3 miles of a wind turbine could be affected, which is approximately 220 residences in the area.
There was a possibility that one low-power station (K25NK-D) could experience diminished reception within the limits of the project area, particularly in the northeast. Residences to the north and west of the project may have declining reception of KSMQ, KAAL, KXLT and KTTC TV stations, which are located southeast of the project area, after wind turbines are installed. Stations KYIN and KIMT, which broadcast south of the project area, may have lower reception for communities directly north.
Pleasant Valley currently has a mitigation plan to discuss with landowners the option of installing a combination of a high gain antenna and/or a low-noise amplifier, or entering into an agreement to provide a monetary contribution for basic satellite television services at the residences, according to the permit compliance file.
"Wind power is a wonderful thing," Blanchard said. "Above residential areas? It's disruptive."